The Okanagan Mountain Fire of 2003 - Peachland, BC
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member T0SHEA
N 49° 44.382 W 119° 45.868
11U E 300823 N 5513358
Quick Description: It was a scary time in the central Okanagan in August of 2003 and we happened to be there to witness it all.
Location: British Columbia, Canada
Date Posted: 12/15/2015 1:03:09 AM
Waymark Code: WMQ3ZV
Published By: Groundspeak Regular Member Dunbar Loop
Views: 2

Long Description:
It had been an extremely hot and dry summer, with zero precipitation for weeks when lightning from a dry thunderstorm struck in the evening of August 16 at Squally Point. This Historic Marker was installed in 2008 at Antler Beach in Peachland, directly west of the site of the strike. The site is easily viewed from the marker, essentially directly east. The lightning bolt in the photo below depicts the approximate location of the lightning strike.

We happened to be living in Westbank at the time and on the morning of August 17 we could see the smoke from the fire directly south of us across the lake. For days we would walk to the end of our street in the evening and watch the helicopters and water bombers fight a valiant but fruitless battle against a fire which became bigger with each passing day. The helicopters would dump a load of water, then reload at the nearest source of water, often a nearby backyard pool. The water bombers would dump their loads then skim a new load from the lake, then dump it - continuing in this manner in large circles, skim a load, dump it, skim a load, dump it...

The fire began southwest of South Kelowna and the prevailing wind slowly blew the fire closer and closer to the city. It wasn't long before evacuations of those in immediate danger from the fire began, with more and more families being evacuated every day. Ultimately, a total of over 30,000 persons were forced to leave their homes, leaving behind everything but what they could quickly pack into cars and SUVs. Of these, 238 families eventually returned to ashes where their homes once stood.

An acquaintance of ours lived on the very outskirts of the city and refused to evacuate, remaining with a friend in an attempt to save his house. They fought with whatever meagre tools and water they had available until the fire began coming over the back fence. At that point they decided that it was finally time to retreat, scurrying down the hill ahead of the flames to a boat waiting at the lakeshore. Several days later, after the fire had passed by, he returned to assess the damage. Miraculously, his house was still standing, though most everything around it was gone. It's quite possible that a water bomber had scored a direct on his house at about the same time that he was beating a hasty retreat.

Fire departments from all over western Canada and the northwestern U.S. rushed to Kelowna to assist, with well over 60 different fire departments being represented at the peak of the danger. Many of the firefighters were bivouacked in a park near our house, with firemen and fire engines coming and going continuously 24 hours a day. Though their assistance was immensely appreciated by everyone in the area, it was ultimately the weather which brought the fire under control. In September the weather became cooler and rain storms began to pass through. With that bit of aid the 3,000 or so firefighters and military personnel in the task force were able to put an end to the situation in short order.


The Okanagan Mountain
Fire of 2003

Directly across Lake Okanagan, on August 16, 2003, lightning struck a tree at Squally Point. The ensuing blaze consumed over 25,000 hectares as it spread to Kelowna, Myra Canyon and Naramata. More than 33,000 people were evacuated and 238 homes were destroyed or damaged. The Myra Canyon section of the Trans Canada Trail saw 12 historic wooden railway trestles destroyed and 2 steel ones damaged.
Text From the Marker

Photo goes Here

The Okanagan Mountain Fire of 2003

On August 16, 2003, during one of the driest summers in recent decades, a lightning strike near Rattlesnake Island in Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park started a wildfire that spread rapidly to the north and east, fanned by constant wind. As homes were engulfed by the flames and many others were threatened, 45,000 residents in affected areas were evacuated. By the time the fire was under control it had burned 250 square kilometers (61,776 acres) and destroyed 239 homes. Most of the trees in Okanagan Mountain Park were burned, and the park was closed. Amazingly, there was no loss of human life during the entire incident.

The Regional District of the Central Okanagan’s Emergency Response Plan was put into action and the Emergency Operations Centre at the main fire hall coordinated the efforts of over 60 fire departments across B.C., over 1,000 forestry fire fighters, contractors and loggers as well as 1,400 members of the Canadian armed forces.

Among the losses were the 12 wooden trestles and 2 steel spans on the Myra Canyon National Historic Site. The bridges were part of the closed Kettle Valley Railway which was purchased by the provincial government in 1990 and many volunteer hours had gone into work on the trestles by the Myra Canyon Trestle Restoration Society, established in 1992. As part of the trans-Canada Trail the Myra Canyon trestles were becoming a major heritage tourism destination when they were destroyed. They are now being rebuilt with financial assistance from the provincial and federal governments.

The new Stop of Interest sign commemorating The Okanagan Mountain Fire of 2003 was erected in 2008 as part of a BC150 initiative by the Ministry of Transportation.
From Heritage BC Stops

Type of Marker: Cultural

Type of Sign: British Columbia Tourism Sign

Describe the parking that is available nearby: Roadside Pullout with parking for many vehicles

What Agency placed the marker?: BC Ministry of Transportation

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